British Council Creative Economy

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12 July 2015

Full of surprises - creative enterprise workshops in Haifa

We've taken our Creative Enterprise workshops to Haifa, Israel. Participants may have signed up to learn skills, but they came away with so much more.

They’re in the middle of a session on business modelling when the phone rings.  The crowd turns towards the cause of the interruption, while the owner of the phone tries in vain to stifle the sound.  Too late.  The jeers have started.  She tries vainly to look for a means of escape but there’s no chance - the crowd are now chanting her name.  Reluctantly she stands, nervous at first, then takes to the floor, turning and swirling as she dances a burst of flamenco.  Thirty seconds later, she takes a bow and the room erupts with cheers and applause.

Welcome to creative enterprise training in Haifa.  It’s full of surprises.

The dance is the forfeit our trainer, Megan, insists upon if anyone forgets to put their phone on silent.  It’s typical of her approach - playful but firm.  And it works.  They love her.

This is the first time we’ve taken Nesta’s creative toolkit training to Israel, and our partners the Arab Culture Association have brought together an eclectic cohort of Haifa’s Arab creative community to take part in the workshop.  The group includes a comedian, a photographer, dance teachers, t-shirt designers and would-be cultural managers.  It's a week long immersion which explores the philosophy behind running a business as much as it imparts practical skills.

There’s a reason why the flamenco performer wasn’t fazed.  She’s a dance teacher who’s been dreaming about launching her own dance school for the past year.  She tells me this week hasn’t just solidified her ambition, its encouraged her to think even bigger.  Working with others on the idea development session, she’s seen even more potential for her business - an online shop, a series of party packages - ideas that mean the business can be earning money without the need for her to always be teaching.  Its been a revelation to her.  She tells me she’s been going home at the end of the (long, hot, intense) days and continuing to work, building on everything she’s learnt through the day.  The confidence and motivation the workshop has unleashed in her doesn’t end when the workshop closes.

Its a story I’ve heard repeated throughout the week.  People came to the workshop expecting to learn practical tools to help them turn their dreams into reality. What they didn’t expect was the permission the workshop would give them to explore and test their ideas with others, refine the top line concepts they’ve developed alone and use the power of the group to make them more resilient to the ups and down that will inevitably come their way.  The teaching style is interactive, coaching, encouraging.  There are plenty of invitations to get creative with sticky notes and coloured pens. Megan draws upon her own experience running a lingerie business and peppers the week with real world examples of the hundreds of creative startups she has worked with.  But mostly its about empowering the group to ask questions of themselves and each other, testing themselves and challenging the real and perceived boundaries they know all too well.

This group are often philosophical - sometimes too philosophical.  Megan patiently but firmly encourages everyone to anchor their concepts in the practical: who is the audience, what’s the core of the idea, why should anyone care.  How the need to make art has to co-exist with the need to make money, to set a value on work that reflects the skill and craft involved.  The lightbulb moments come. In some cases, people find that their ideas don't stand up to their new found powers of self scrutiny, so they tear them up and start again.  In other cases, participants get so excited by each other's ideas that they plan ways to collaborate.  A strong, supportive network of creatives is being formed before our eyes and the generosity of spirit energises us all. 

On day one, people focussed on the obstacles they faced- and of course there are plenty for this group, despite the fact that they are all hugely talented and highly educated.  They cite problems with the system, the government, reliance on NGO funding, the lack of self motivation - the problems seem insurmountable.  But by day five the group are focussing on finding solutions together, and the dynamic has shifted.  Its remarkable to watch.  Even Sameeh, our translator for the week, has been carried away by the shift in energy, admitting to me that he wasn’t sure about the programme on the first day but he now thinks its one of the most effective he’s witnessed.  He’s taken to joining some of the breakout groups and is excitedly contributing and encouraging.  He’s now part of the network too.

I leave Haifa with the certain knowledge that this week has changed people’s lives and shifted their approach to creative enterprise.  I truly hope that some of the exciting ideas I’ve been privy to- the dance school, the travelling open air cinema, the arts centre - will be a reality soon.  Having met the people behind them, I have no doubt they will.  But the practical tools Megan has shared are only a small part of the story.  The real legacy is that this is no longer a group of creative individuals but a strong, supportive creative network. Eyad, Director of the Arab Culture Association, grins as he shows me the plans for the creative hub space he’s opening next summer.  “When exactly will the hub be up and running?” I ask him.  “Its happening already,” he smiles, gesturing around him to the 20 people who've taken the workshop this week.  “It's right here”.

Caroline Meaby is Senior Programme Manager for the Creative Economy team.